April 4, 2013

I May Have Been Wrong to Be So Skeptical of Acoustic Treatment

B Room of Supernatural Sound Recording Studio ...
B Room of Supernatural Sound Recording Studio - under construction ... digidesign ProTools HD Soundcraft DC2000 ;monitors KRK V8 YAMAHA NS-10M (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I wrote a post on skepticism in the audiophile community back in August of 2012. I noted that being an audiophile often seems to be antithetical to skepticism; however, I also pointed out that I had found evidence of skeptical currents during my visits to online audio forums. I've continued to explore the hobby of trying to make the music I listen to sound even better, and I've discovered something I hadn't expected: one of the things I considered to be a myth might not be one after all.

I have long known that professionals who work in recording studios utilize acoustic treatment to modify the sound of their recording spaces. What I had not realized until recently is that many home audio and home theater enthusiasts install acoustic treatment in their listening areas too. A number of companies sell this stuff, and it is not cheap. Naturally, I was rather skeptical when I first learned of it.

I have read countless testimonials and seen the before and after graphs, but the idea of spending thousands of dollars on bass traps, acoustic panels, and diffusers for one's home struck me as a little silly. And yet, I continued to encounter the argument that skipping acoustic treatment and using even mid-range audio equipment in untreated rooms was even sillier.

I decided to do some informal experimentation on my own. I took the room that houses my computer apart, removing every item so I was left with an empty room with bare walls. Okay, I kept the blinds on the window, but everything else was gone. I started this project because the computer desk I have been using for the past 15 years was about to collapse. It had been repaired so many times that there wasn't enough of it left to fix again. Since I had to remove it, it was a good excuse to empty the room.

After putting my new desk together and getting my aging computer and audio equipment back on it, I was ready to experiment. I noticed that the obnoxious music I listen to sounded very different as I moved things around. For example, the sound was much better when I oriented my desk so that the speakers were on a short wall rather than the long wall I had been using. I put my speakers on some old stands I had laying around, spread them out a bit more than my desk would allow, and they sounded better still.

This is where things really began to get interesting. I brought back a couple of bookshelves into the room and tried them in a few different locations. I was surprised at how dramatically the sound changed simply based on where in the room I put them.

My experimentation promoted me to read up on acoustic treatment and take a closer look at how it was designed to work. I was amazed to see that the things I had done to the room regarding speaker placement and bookshelf location that had improved the sound mapped on almost perfectly to the recommendations I found for room layout and treatment. I think I was too hasty to dismiss the value of acoustic treatment. I think it may be worth trying after all.

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